Chasing Ice and the Aesthetics of Destruction

Story by Elizabeth Lewis, CGM Staff Writer

Over the last decade, climate change and the “debate” over whether or not it is man made has caused unprecedented controversy in the political arena, particularly in America, where business interests can often work to override policies that are in the best interest of the public. As people are beginning to realize that climate change is real and that humans have played a very real part in its escalation over the past two centuries, the evidence has become undeniable.

chasing-iceJames Balog, an environmental photographer who worked for several publications, including National Geographic, saw the drastic changes in the environment that were occurring as a result of climate change and sought to find a way to make these changes visible to the public. He knew that the general pubic was disinterested in figures and numbers and wanted something that could be seen. That was when he began the Extreme Ice Survey, a project involving many cameras set up in and around glaciers in several parts of the world, most notably in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska. The objective was to capture the glaciers in photographs over periods of months and years, showing their dramatic changes in size.

The film Chasing Ice, released in 2012 and directed by Jeff Orlowski, follows Balog and his fellow members of the Extreme Ice Survey through their journey to bring the realities of climate change to a horribly mislead public.

In its opening scenes, Chasing Ice shows a wide-array of talking heads from well-known cable news networks doling out conflicting information about the realities of climate change and the role that humans have played in its rapid increase. Heated arguments and misleading information, as they were depicted in the opening scenes of the film, have played an unfortunately large role in the lack of public knowledge and minimizing the climate change issue.

With strong visuals of the slow-motion calving of glaciers and intense footage from the heart of melt zones in Greenland, the film portrays the condition of the world’s most vast and beautiful glaciers in a state of desperation, as they continue decrease in size at an increasingly rapid pace. Some of the most intense scenes of the film occurred while the crew was standing by, waiting for a glacier to calve, for nearly three weeks. The effects of the footage of the calving glacier was well worth the wait, as it contributed massively to meaning of the film as a whole; one section after another, the glacier fell and was swept away rapidly.

Throughout the film, there was a sense of urgency, as in the urgency of gathering the photos captured of the glaciers from a camera set at high altitudes in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. This translated in a sense of urgency for the climate issue and the fact that something must be done to curb carbon emissions into the atmosphere by the human population before the dangerous course humanity is headed down becomes far worse. With the rise in seawater that is said to occur as a result of melting glacial ice, weather patterns and storms will continue to grow in size and frequency.

It is hard to look at the beautiful imagery of the glaciers and not hope to preserve them for a better future. It is clear that something must be done to limit the amount of pollution that is being released into the air because there is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change has increased beyond the naturally occurring levels of the past due to human excesses. The first step towards a better tomorrow for all of the life on earth, as well as the earth itself, is education. Presenting the public with time-lapse photographs of the rapid demise of some of the world’s largest glaciers, as James Balog has done with his Extreme Ice Survey, is an excellent way to move the public from skepticism and into action.


Editor’s Note:

Nilhilism: rejecting all religious and moral principles in the belief that life is meaningless.

Moments in watching films like Chasing Ice challenge our ways of  living  by lighting up our current tendency to shun our actions of destroying the Earth. Chasing Ice is a statement that people do care enough to show the masses the effects of our combined proliferation. Acting as a symbol of hope this film rejects the notion of nilhilism. The beauty and awe of life can be seen even in pixelated projections of ice; the product of life “frozen” in time. What’s even more beautiful is the fact that although we have caused the ‘massive melt’, we can also create one massive transition of collective consciousness and reverse the global loss of glacial ice.

“The consequences for aesthetics and art are well-defined: either art will become the only space within which non-nihilistic access to Being is possible, or else art as will to power will have, more modestly, the therapeutic function of keeping under control the nihilistic tendencies of Overman.”

The Future of Art: An Aesthetics of the New and the Sublime